COMPLICATING CHRISTIANITY

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Luke 10: 25 An expert in the Law of Moses stood up and asked Jesus a question to see what he would say. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to have eternal life?”

26Jesus answered, “What is written in the Scriptures? How do you understand them?” 27The man replied, “The Scriptures say, `Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.’ They also say, `Love your neighbours as much as you love yourself.’ ”

28Jesus said, “You have given the right answer. If you do this, you will have eternal life.”

29But the man wanted to show that he knew what he was talking about. So he asked Jesus, “Who are my neighbours?”

30Jesus replied: As a man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, robbers attacked him and grabbed everything he had. They beat him up and ran off, leaving him half dead.

31A priest happened to be going down the same road. But when he saw the man, he walked by on the other side. 32Later a temple helper came to the same place. But when he saw the man who had been beaten up, he also went by on the other side. 33A man from Samaria then came travelling along that road. When he saw the man, he felt sorry for him 34and went over to him. He treated his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put him on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. 35The next morning he gave the innkeeper two silver coins and said, “Please take care of the man. If you spend more than this on him, I will pay you when I return.” 36Then Jesus asked, “Which one of these three people was a real neighbour to the man who was beaten up by robbers?”

37The teacher answered, “The one who showed pity.”

Jesus said, “Go and do the same!”

I have been sitting with my coffee this morning, in the stillness of the house, well apart from a dog snoring under my desk. I am surrounded by books, if you know me, you’ll know I love books and I only have a fraction of my library on shelves. Nearly all my books are Christian books, commentaries on the Bible, books on the church, books on leadership, books on spirituality and spiritual growth. I have learned a lot from these books. I know I am a bit of a geek because some of them feel like friends, they have had a role in shaping the person I am.

Looking at all of those books written to help us understand Christianity and live as Christians you could easily draw the conclusion that Christianity is complicated, difficult to understand faith. It would be easy to think that Christians needs a high IQ. Yet most of the first generation of Christians were manual labourers not intellectuals. Today Christianity is spreading like a virus not among the learned elites of the world but among the illiterate poor. While I love my books, I think we have over complicated Christianity. I think we have missed the transforming power of Christianity which many of the world’s poor and oppressed have intuitively grasped.

All of those thoughts have been invading my silence and stirring my soul because I have been reading the story again Jesus tells in Luke 10. I was brought up in the church and so I was brought up with this story. I am pretty certain that this is the story that I have known for longest period in my life. I was shown it in pictures books at home, taught it through flannelgraph at Sunday school, heard it preached from pulpits, discussed it in small groups and exegeted it theological college. Yet this morning it has a new power as I hear God speaking to me through the familiarity.

What we need to understand was that the theologian’s question wasn’t really about how he could live forever, it was a question not so much about the quantity of life but its quality. To have eternal life was to share the life of the Eternal One, its life in the Kingdom of God, life as God intended. Its Jesus’ answer that has hit me between the eyes this morning.

I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t tell the Jewish theologian to go and read the ancient equivalent of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. Jesus just got to the point. What does it mean to live the life God intended? What does it mean to live in the Kingdom of God? What does it mean to follow Jesus? LOVE, was Jesus reply.

I have tens of millions of words in my study to help me understand Christianity but Jesus uses only one, LOVE. Now that is a word, that especially in English, is way over used and too little understood. Jesus helps nail down what he means by telling us WHO we are to love and HOW we are to love.

WHO

We are to love God and our neighbours. Jesus says this is Christianity distilled to its essence, a Christ follower LOVES, they love God and their neighbours. Who can’t understand that? Who can’t do that? If you want to live as a Christian today, its not hard or complicated, just love God and your neighbour.

How are we to love God? That’s not complicated either, we are to love God with “all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.” The most important word in that phrase is ALL. Jesus is saying we are to love God with ALL that we are he also means that we are to love God in every area of our lives. I know some times I want to tithe my love to God, like I do my income, give God a percentage. Some of my love in this area, most of my love in this area and perhaps all of my love in another area of my life. Jesus says we love in an all or nothing way. I think the best way to sum up, “all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.” is with the word, passionately. We are to love God passionately. He is to be the consuming passion of every dimension of our live. Now that’s not complicated is it? Hard yes, challenging absolutely, but not complicated.

We are also to love our neighbour. As soon as Jesus says this, the expert wants to read the small print, he wants Jesus to spell out the exemption clause. He wants to draw lines, to include some people and exclude some people from this command to love. He wants to know who it is that he doesn’t have to love, who is beyond the obligation of love for God’s people. In response Jesus tells this, perhaps one of the best known stories every told.

Its clear that the Samaritan loved the Jew in the story, that fact was surprising to Jesus’ audience. Samaritan and Jewish people, generally in that culture, hated rather than loved, each other. So what Jesus is saying is in the actions of the Samaritan is that, our neighbour, those we are to love, includes even those it would be easy for us to hate. We are to love even those who are different from us, even those who have treated us badly in the past. In the Kingdom of God there are no exemption clauses when it comes to whom we are to love and doesn’t Jesus doesn’t give us the option of drawing lines.

Again I am struck by how uncomplicated yet challenging that is. We as the church are called to love, called to love even those who are radically or racially different from us, called to love those who may have abused us in the past, called to love those who are considered our enemies, called to love those who to be frank we find pretty unlovable.

You know what? The truth is that the world pays little attention to our preaching, few people pay attention to our pronouncements BUT the world does pay attention when we actually love like this. The world stops laughing and criticising the church when it actually starts loving our neighbours. When Mother Teresa loves the poor, when Archbishop Tutu forgives his racist oppressors, the world stands opened jawed. The early church spread like wild fire round the ancient world not primarily because of its powerful preaching or well argued apologetics but because of its love, its love for the least, the lonely and the left out of Roman society. When we love our neighbours, the church becomes sacramental, people see and feel the grace of God in and through us.

HOW

I have a huge volume on my shelf, entitled ON CHRISTIAN LOVE in which the author tries to explain what the Bible means by this word, love. In contrast, Jesus doesn’t write a book on love or give a lecture on love. Instead to help us comprehend it, he gives us a story, and offers us an example.

The Samaritan, meets the needs of the man who had been attacked, he sacrifices personally to take care of him. He incarnates, embodies and expresses through his actions, Jesus’ command that we are to “Love your neighbours as much as you love yourself.’ ” What is very clear in this simple but profound story is that this is no abstract or theoretic love Jesus is talking about. It’s a deeply practical love. It’s a love that when it sees a need and has the resources, sacrifices to meet that need. Its a love that refuses to be apathetic when it sees others in need. Its a love that refuses to take the easy option and walk on by unconcerned and uninvolved. A love that is not afraid to gets its hands dirty or to makes it’s wallet lighter.

WHEN

“Jesus said, “Go and do the same!” Jesus us calls on us to follow the example of the Samaritan. We are to love practically and sacrificially whenever we are confronted by a need we have the resources to meet. Now that’s not beyond any of us, is it?

CONCLUSION

No this Christianity thing is not complicated, its about loving, loving God passionately and other people practically. I wonder if we have deliberately made it complicated to stop it being what it should be, challenging!

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